[trigger warning: child sexual abuse, rape culture, victim blaming]
Though Friday night’s verdict prompted cheers outside the courtroom, inside, the mother of Victim 6 did not claim victory.
“Nobody wins. We’ve all lost,” she said before hugging her son.
I have a lot of feelings about this case. I don’t know how to properly articulate some of them.
This case is one of, if not the most, infamous case of child sexual abuse and child rape in my lifetime. It’s a story that is too horrible to believe. But this kind of thing happens every day— maybe not on the same scale, but with horrifying frequency in our world.
Penn State tells us a lot about rape culture. It tells us a lot about abuse culture. As I’ve said in the past, these things do not happen in a political and cultural vacuum; they happen because the moral and social fabric of an entire society is built in such a way that it can fail people— not just once, but over and over again. It takes a village. There were many times in my life when an adult armed with the right knowledge might have seen through what was happening to me. There were times, later on as a teenager, when I was very direct, but no one did anything. I wrote down that I wanted to kill myself and I showed it to a teacher. I asked for a social worker. I received multiple truancy letters. It takes a village.
So as I think about this case, and the people who suffered so much for years and years at the hands of Jerry Sandusky, I can only imagine how many times the world failed them. I cannot understand the agony of publicly revealing your story for prime time news pundits to pick apart. I cannot comprehend the frustration and pain involved in taking the witness stand and having your story criticized and attacked.
I read the grand jury report many months ago. It was terrifying. I had to stop halfway through because I felt myself getting physically ill. But I remember the testimony of the janitor who saw Sandusky abusing a boy— he said that the memory of that haunted and disturbed him more than the years he spent fighting in Vietnam. That is the gravity of what we are dealing with here.
But despite this desire to call Jerry Sandusky a monster, we have to remember that he is a person, and that people— people whom we think are “good”— can do monstrous things. Jerry Sandusky had many people testify to his “good character”. It takes a village. Joe Paterno let child rape happen, and instead of riots and outrage against him, he had riots in his name. It takes a village. And some of us still refuse to believe that even a priest, a “man of god”, can abuse a boy.
It takes a village.
Even now, I am starting to see the jokes about prison rape. It’s a sign of where we still are— we see rape as something that can sometimes be a punishment, instead of as one of the worst possible acts in human existence. We still believe that rape is something that can be doled out to those “deserving” of it, instead of as something that every single person in the world has the right to not have happen to them. We still believe that a person we don’t like deserves to have images of their rape and murder publicly broadcast, and that people who do good things can’t possibly be child rapists or child rapist enablers
This is the culture we are in— one that has variable beliefs on rape and sexual abuse, many of which contradict one another. It’s not okay to hurt little boys, but what if this case was about 45 counts of rape against women? What if some of those women were promiscuous or had other “deviant” sexuality? What if these boys were men when they were hurt? What if some of these boys, now adults, were convicted criminals? Gay? Transgender? Undocumented? Mentally disabled? Fat? What if they were some combination of all of these? The more “deviant” and “bad” we see a person, the more likely it is that their story is not taken seriously. That we cannot, with 100% certainty, say that Jerry Sandusky in another world would be convicted had his victims not been among one of the most believable, sympathetic groups in our culture— children— says a lot about where we are. And as we know, even little boys have trouble being believed.
In 90 days, Jerry Sandusky will be sentenced, probably with life in prison. But there are still other Jerry Sanduskys out there, and they have entire villages, entire cities of people behind them, actively ignoring abuse, or subtly covering it up. Some of these people— both the abusers and the abuse enablers— could be our neighbors, our cops, our teachers, or our siblings. There are still Joe Paternos out there, knowingly allowing rape and getting away with it. This is not an aberration in our culture— it is a pattern that is systematically ignored and even encouraged.
The end of Jerry Sandusky is not the end of the many millions of other stories out there.
Perfect commentary on a horrific case. NPR has been triggering the fuck out of me lately with all of the Sandusky coverage. The knowing complicity of so many people combined with the institutional enabling is beyond disturbing. Those poor boys. In a sense, their lives ended with that abuse. What is left for them now? I hope there is a lot of emotional and professional support for them.
I hope that the attention this story received paves a way for more accountability. I hope people start paying more attention and have the courage to protect the abused.